Marketing for Startups

Marketing for small business

If you have ever hired a marketer or read a “Marketing for Small Business” -type book, you have probably come across the customer avatar, also called a buyer persona. 

Here’s the cheat sheet explanation: in university, they teach us communication-y types the importance of deeply understanding your audience when writing your copy, so it speaks directly to them. But it’s hard to hold more than one person in your brain at one time, so you make up a customer and call that person your “customer avatar” or buyer persona.

The Psychology of Marketing for Small Business

Our brains naturally want to generalize and lump people together, which is death for persuasive copywriting. This need to group people is why we feel like “everyone hates us” when arguing with one person. Of course, we logically know everyone does not hate us, but our brains group people and events together in what are called subconscious mental categories, often with wildly inaccurate results. (Researchers call this process “shaped temporal concept,” and you better write that down because there will be a quiz.)

Thus arose the customer avatar. Marketers learn to craft the perfect message by creating one fictional person to represent your whole audience. Your slogan is whatever appeals to the fictional person. Your colours are the colours they like. Your offering is just the thing they need. 

Fictional People = Fictional Sales

Which would be great if your fictional buyer existed. In last week’s 1-minute video, I explained that, unfortunately, the person who makes up the buyer persona has all kinds of biases. These biases include the same subconscious mental categories that make it necessary to pare your audience down to one person in the first place.

I recommend choosing an actual customer or client as your buyer persona. Then you can be sure your assumptions about their tastes and buying patterns are accurate.  But what if your business is brand new? What if you’re a startup and don’t have a customer at all, let alone a favourite one? Here’s what you do…

Buyer Personas for Startups

If you have just opened your doors, or maybe haven’t even done that yet, congratulations! Doing careful market research NOW, not five years into your business is easier and cheaper.

Every marketing tactic you choose should be grounded in the message that best speaks to your buyer. You need to figure out that message before you can create the tools you’ll use to attract your ideal buyer. 

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Who is this ideal buyer? You don’t know yet.

It’s not at all prudent to start a business without knowing your market, which involves customer profiling. What kind of amateur doesn’t do customer profiling before starting a business?

Me. That’s who. 

I knew I was starting this business for a whole YEAR before I did it, and I didn’t do a bit of research about my ideal client. The universe took pity on my naiveté and threw me a big client immediately, which kept the lights on while I figured out how to run a business.

That client became my customer avatar.

If you have one client, you know one person who would buy what you’re selling. If you have no customers, you can offer your wares to acquaintances until you find a true enthusiast among them and then use that person. 

Startup or not, our customer avatars need to change as our markets change and as our customer bases change. It’s perfectly okay in the beginning to have a sample size of 1 from which to choose your customer avatar. You can continue to modify it as you get more information about who your people are.

The most important thing is to know your customer’s needs, motivations and challenges. That ideal customer will grow and evolve, just like the rest of your business and just like you.

Picture of author, Bridget Brown